There is a lot to talk about, regarding The Force Awakens, but without giving away any more plot than the trailer, I can discuss how much better the filmographic focus and restraint are than in the Prequels.
I watched both Return of the Jedi and Revenge of the Sith immediately after The Force Awakens. RotJ stands up, but RotS is pretty awful in comparison, simply at a visual level.
It’s clear, in the Prequels, that Lucas and Company wanted to show us a “newer” universe, in which the Galactic Republic was at its height. Everything is clean and polished (which, unfortunately, translates to “without texture”). Along with that, Lucas shows us EVERYTHING. Everything is in focus. Every shot is full of a million “cool” things. There are so many cool things that it’s impossible to focus on any one thing: and so everything becomes mundane.
In the originals, and in The Force Awakens, focus is incredible narrow. Both physical focus and narrative focus. Backgrounds are blurry and recede, with just enough detail to show me that SOMETHING is there, but not so much detail that I can make much of it out. Which lets me fill in all that great detail with my imagination.
In contrast, either the foreground or some isolated area of the screen is almost always full of textured detail. The most “prequel” looking texture is probably a distinctive chrome uniform worn by one of the characters, and even that is kept dark enough and sometimes smudged enough so that it feels more “real”. My eyes always know where to land. I can track action and I’m not distracted by background characters, but I still know that they’re present.
I am attached two sets of screen captures, all from the trailers for either The Force Awakens or Revenge of the Sith. I didn’t have to be too selective: its very obvious.
Blurring your focus leaves a lot to the imagination. The monster in the dark that you never quite see is far more frightening. The hinted-at backstory is far more interesting than the full history. What works visually, also works for the narrative. Rather than talking about this new movie’s plot, we can use Tolkien as an example: The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings’s Middle Earth feels like an old world, with hidden stories around every corner, precisely because Tolkien tells his stories from a very narrative point-of-view: we get hints of legends and characters with rich backstories we never do more than touch on.
Great Star Wars stories do the same: they give us just enough. Think of Mon Mothma’s line in RotJ: “Many Bothans died to bring us this information. (long, sad pause)”. I love that line! Who were the Bothans? What happened? Don’t tell me, just let me ask the question! Boba Fett was a lot cooler when we didn’t know who the hell he was, or where he got that sweet Mandalorian armor.
All this is to say: I loved The Force Awakens. I will probably avoid all of Disney’s attempts to fill in that interesting, blurry background with comics, novels, and merchandise, because the vague ideas in my head are a lot more epic before they’re narrowed down on film.